Righteous Kill

Where once the decline of Robert De Niro's and Al Pacino's prodigious talent inspired howls of anguish and impassioned critical essays, it's a sad state of affairs when the best news about Righteous Kill, the cop thriller that stars them both, is that it isn't awful. New York City tough-guy detectives Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino) are investigating a serial killer who's bumping off heinous criminals acquitted by the judicial system, but suspicion soon turns to the detectives themselves. Screenwriter Russell Gewirtz's first script was another New York crime drama, Spike Lee's crackerjack Inside Man, which featured a slew of well-drawn characters as clever as the story's twists. But Righteous Kill (directed by journeyman Jon Avnet) jettisons most of the wit for macho bluster and a surprise you can see coming down the turnpike. Although there's no point commenting that De Niro and Pacino are playing calcified versions of their once-great selves, at least Pacino is more reserved than usual — a welcome change. But between the film's police-procedural minutiae and trite thematic concerns (the weight of Catholic guilt, the thin moral line between cop and crook), Righteous Kill isn't so much bad as it is played-out. No wonder the film's faded stars seem to fit right in.

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